Bretons and Britons: The Fight for Identity by Barry Cunliffe - review by Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer

Don’t Call Them French

Bretons and Britons: The Fight for Identity


Oxford University Press 488pp £25

Ever since the smoke cleared from the Napoleonic Wars, Brittany has been a playground for the British. But as this remarkable book makes clear, long before it was a place of recreation, the English especially knew it as a place of trade, migration and war. For more than thirty-five years, Sir Barry Cunliffe was professor of European archaeology at Oxford, but his passionate interest in Brittany and the Bretons dates back, he says, to his time as a student. His book is a very effective history of this region of northwestern France, but it is also a history of the links between the British Isles and the Breton people, going back to prehistoric times.

Brittany was only incorporated into France by a treaty of 1532. For several hundred years prior to that it had had its own ducal rulers and retained its independence, not least by playing off the English against the French. But before the middle of the eighth century it had been

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